Alumni Spotlight: Lea Hamelin


Lea is a French 19-year old undergraduate student in England. She lived in Portugal, Spain, France, and China which gave her the opportunity to travel a lot around the world. She is always looking for her next destination, eager to jump on the next plane to discover new cultures, people, landscapes.

Why did you choose this program?

I needed to find a volunteering program that I could trust since no one I knew had done such a trip before. I looked up on the internet and saw the IVHQ website which I found to be clear and concise, providing all the information I needed before enrolling. I liked the numerous options they offered and the feedback they provided from previous volunteers.

To be honest, I was afraid of frauds, especially going to Tanzania. So I decided to contact IVHQ located in New Zealand. Despite the distance, I received extremely fast responses, and got all the answers I was looking for when I got on the phone with one of the volunteer coordinators.

Both the website and the email exchanges made me choose this program.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Right after IVHQ accepted my application, they provided me with an online booklet containing all useful information before departure. This included safety, visa, work permits, brief history of the country, clothing, weather, and more.

IVHQ also proposed to find my plane ticket at the lowest fare as well as the travel insurance. Also, we had an orientation day before our placements started so the local coordinators can give us more specific information of the country and the schools and hospitals we will be sent to.

I honestly only did a few things on my own, which included finding my plane ticket (cheaper than the one they offered me), finding the visa requirements for French people, asking for my background check, and that is basically it. IVHQ made an amazing job at preparing me to leave.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One of the details that may seem insignificant but ended up being important was the clothing information provided by IVHQ. They did a good job letting us know about the culturally appropriate outfits. However, they did not mention anything about the weather.

I went to Tanzania in July which is winter there, and I was clearly not prepared for the cold mornings and nights. Some of us ended up being sick for a few days because of a lack of sweaters. Thankfully, I had all the necessary meds since IVHQ provided a list of recommended drugs we needed to bring.

Also, arriving in Tanzania, I did not think of bringing anything, and thought I would buy donations there directly. However, lots of my fellow volunteers brought some items of clothing and old books from home to give to the children, and it was a much better idea. I would therefore recommend bringing donations from home.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day there mostly depends on the program you choose (childcare, teaching, healthcare, animal welfare, HIV support...), but all days roughly look alike:

  • Wake up early in the morning to go to placement;
  • Spend all morning (4-5 hours) at placement taking care of children, or assisting surgeries, or teaching HIV widows how to live with HIV;
  • Come back for lunch around 1:30-2:00 PM.

The afternoon is free time. To be honest, we all came back pretty tired from our mornings even if it does not seem that long. Local transports plus mornings with 35 three-year old children is exhausting, but in a good way!

Free time includes Masai Market, going in town for any sort of activities, sunsets, hikes, Masai Village visits... At night, you can either decide to go enjoy Tanzanian's nightlife, or stay at home for movie nights.

During the weekends, you don't have placement, and I had the chance to go on a 4-day Safari which was absolutely amazing too. I truly recommend it, especially if you are into that stuff.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

To be honest, I have had the chance to travel a lot around the world, which during the years, made me fear less and less about travelling. Plus, I had already been to Tanzania once to do a Safari with my family.

But if I really have to find an answer to this question, I would say the fact of doing all of this by myself. When I travelled before, it always used to be with my family or friends, and my parents were the ones taking care of my plane tickets and organizing the trip.

For this trip, my parents were not involved at all, and I was in charge of organizing everything by myself, which I really enjoyed because it made it my project from top to bottom, but made me stress a lot more too. However, as soon as I got there, I was welcomed by very warm local coordinators who made me feel safe and taken care of, and that completely took the stress away.

What is something important to know before leaving?

You have to be aware that you won't change the world, simply because it is not how it works. It may seem frustrating when you leave, because you would have liked to do so much more. Trust me, three weeks is too short, and my advice would be to leave for a month at least.

You have to keep in mind that everything you do is valuable, at its scale. Again, you will not change the world, but you may change the life of one or two kids.

I met incredible people in both my school and my volunteer house. The director and teachers as much as the smiling and extremely bright kids offered me an extremely warm welcome, and that definitely made me feel like they were glad I was there to help. In the house, volunteers come from all around the world with different stories. Immersing in this diversity really enables you to enrich your experience not only on the volunteering level but also on the personal level.

This experience is truly enriching because you are able to share your culture with the locals and vice versa, and also because you create beautiful friendships and learn to open your mind to differences.

Finally, I would say this journey was overwhelming in a good way, simply because of how diversified and intense it is. Don't overthink, and just go for it. You won't regret it!